Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: MLB 10: The Show is still the undisputed champ in baseball games. On-field realism, spectacular broadcast presentation values, and attention to little details--right down to the scowl on Kevin Youkilis' face--make this a great achievement sure to warm the hearts of everyone who's had Opening Day circled on the calendar since January 1. But it's still hard not to be disappointed. This year's game is almost exactly the same as its predecessor, with no significant changes to the gameplay. This is an undeniably great franchise, although it is also in a holding pattern, with the current game mainly delivering the goods despite seeming creaky in a few areas. It is most notable when it comes to pitching, but it's also a fair bit buggy in others areas, especially the online multiplayer.
Target Field in Minneapolis sure looks pretty in MLB 10.
Just about everything in MLB 10 was also front and center in MLB 2009. All of the modes of play are back for another kick at the can, including the headlining Road to the Show mode where you role-play a scrub from the minors to major league glory. There's also Exhibition, Season, Franchise, Manager, Rivalry, online ranked matches, and league play. Some of these features have been expanded, but nothing has changed in a dramatic way. You can now run full online season leagues. New options have been introduced for pick-off attempts, so you can snap throw or lazily toss the ball over to keep the runner honest. Subbed-in pitchers now have the option of taking warm-up throws. All-Star week during seasons has been jazzed up with the playable futures game and home-run derby. New camera angles give the diamond action even more of a game-of-the-week TV sheen. In-game video clips can be collected and edited into personal highlight reels. Recording your own stadium cheers and jeers is possible for anyone with a USB microphone. There are a few new minor-league parks to keep the scenery varied if you get stuck on the farm in Road to the Show. Stats generated during franchise play seem even more accurate than before, to the point that the game could likely be used as a great prognosticating tool for the real upcoming MLB season. You get the picture. Nothing here dramatically alters the way that the game plays, at least not in any way that will make you sit up and take notice.
Road to the Show 4.0 probably got the lion's share of the attention from the developers, with new options like the ability to watch entire games pitch by pitch and call full games when playing a catcher. Training is a sweet addition, giving you the chance to improve your skills through such workouts as taking cuts in the batting cage and pitching simulated games. This can be a huge help in the early stages when you're struggling to escape riding the buses in AA. Neither of the latter options is likely to see a whole lot of use, though, because both are for truly hardcore fans. Few players will have the time to watch entire games. And you just aren't given enough to do to stay interested when calling games behind the plate. It's a lot like pitching because you pick the type of pitch and location but without the challenge of actually having to work the meter to deliver the ball. The biggest issue with Road to the Show has always been the numerous pauses when loading or saving between games, and that hasn't been addressed at all this year. If anything, these delays take even longer than ever, which drags everything out so much that it feels like you spend more time looking at loading and saving screens than you do actually playing games. This is particularly true if you're controlling a position player who just takes four or five at-bats per game along with a handful of fielding attempts. Road to the Show really grabs you when you're playing a starting pitcher; if you're playing a third baseman, it's awfully slow unless you're really into the whole role-playing thing. You've got to be seriously committed to take the time to get any sort of position player to the bright lights of a big-league stadium.
Out on the diamond, though, MLB 10 can still take your breath away. The game is incredibly accurate in depicting the little things seen in baseball TV broadcasts, adding a ton of finer details that make the game look almost photo-realistic this year. Stadiums look absolutely spectacular. All of the arches and signage are where they should be, from little ads and fans sporting K signs in the crowd to big icons like the swinging neon Liberty Bell in Philadelphia's Citizen Bank Park. Shadows creep across the field at the close of day. Idiots fall onto the field reaching for foul balls down the lines. Mascots dance on top of dugouts between innings. Animations have been added so that you never have to watch the centerfielder throw the ball in to second the same way twice. Fireworks now go off after home wins and beach balls bounce around in the stands. All of this builds a truly incredible baseball party atmosphere, with every contest playing out like a game for the ages broadcast and preserved on high-def TV.
Broadcast-style camera angles get you right down on the field for all the close plays.
Player art is also superb. Along with being able to recognize big-league faces from C.C. Sabathia to Doc Halladay, you can spot changing expressions depending on what's taking place on the field. Victims of called strikeouts never leave the plate without a few choice comments and grimaces. Stadium sounds are just as convincing. Crowd noise is boisterous, especially during rivalry games at key moments. When the Red Sox get rolling against the Yankees in Fenway, the crowd gets so cranked up that it drowns out the broadcasters. But that isn't entirely a bad thing, actually, because the booth trio of Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell, and Rex Hudler offers nothing but vague generalities about pitches, as well as dumb insults whenever you take a bad swing. Hudler is just flat-out annoying this year, spouting dumb catchphrases like "A rookie and a teabag have a lot in common--you never know what you've got until you put 'em in hot water" over and over. Unfortunately, it's hard to critique them too much because this trio is representative of what you get on most real MLB broadcasts these days. Similar brickbats can be hurled at the poor music soundtrack, which comprises mostly second-tier alt-rock acts. At least you can shut down these tunes or use the in-game audio features to replace it all with songs of your own, right down to picking songs for specific teams and walk-up music.